Historic Right


Historic Right
Straight baselines



Canada's historic right on the Northwest Passage was officially expressed in 1973 and was reiterated in 2003 when Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


The historic right of Canada over the continental Arctic, the Arctic Archipelgo, and the Arctic sea ice and waterways mainly relies on the presence of the Inuit, who are the only Canadian citizens to really occupy the Arctic.


Official declarations base the historic claim of Canada on Inuit use and occupation of both land and ice “from time immemorial”.


As a result, unfortunately,  the Inuit were used and even abused in the past to further Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. The best example is maybe the sorry events of the 1950s, when several Inuit families known as the “High Arctic Exiles” were forcibly moved 1,200 kilometers north by the federal government, from the relatively moderate Arctic climate of New Quebec to much harsher conditions in Resolute and Grise Fiord. This was a clear move to strengthen Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, at enormous cost to the Inuit communities. The government of Canada paid financial compensation to the High Arctic exiles in 1996 and made a formal apology in 2010, while memorials to honour the exiles were installed in Resolute and Grise Fiord.



This monument by Nunavut carver Simeonie Amarualik, depicts a man looking out at the Arctic Ocean


Credit: CBC




"Carver Looty Pijamini was commissioned by the Canadian government to build a monument to the High Arctic relocation which took place in 1955. Pijamini's monument, located in Grise Fiord, depicts a woman with a young boy and a husky, with the woman somberly looking out towards the ocean. Pijamini said that he intentionally made them look melancholy because the relocation was not a happy event."


Credit: High Arctic Relocation, Wikipedia




The Canadian government today continues to base its Arctic sovereignty on the Inuit people, but in a much different way, consistent with the country’s new multicultural identity. The changed approach of the Canadian government has won the support of the Inuit community: in 2002, the Inuit Circumpolar Council officially supported “Canada’s assertion of full and complete sovereignty over the Northwest Passage”, adding that “Inuit have been instrumental in exerting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.”


“Inuit, Climate Change, Sovereignty, and Security in the Canadian Arctic”. Remarks by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, President of Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada, January 25, 2002. Downloaded 8 June 2011. <http://www.inuitcircumpolar.com/index.php?ID=91&Lang=En>


Over the years, the Inuit have also made a crucial contribution to Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic through their active participation in the Arctic Rangers. The Rangers provide a military presence in Canada's sparsely settled Arctic areas. Formally established on May 23, 1947, a primary role of this part-time force is to conduct surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required. Some Canadian Rangers also conduct inspections of the North Warning System (NWS) sites, and act as guides, scouts, and experts  for other Canadian forces during joint Arctic operations. Although the Rangers include non non-Aboriginals, they are mostly made up of Inuit and members of the Northern First Nations. There are currently approximately 5,000 Rangers serving in various communities around Canada.


More about the Arctic Rangers:

"Canadian Rangers: the thin red line patrolling our harshest terrain". By Sean Davidson, CBC News, Sep 07, 2013






















Ranger Samson Simeonie (left) indicates the next leg of their journey to Ranger James Anguti (center) Ranger Desmond Massettoe (right) while on their two week arctic patrol during Operation NUNALIVUT on 12 April, 2013.

Photo by: Cpl Aydyn Neifer, CFJIC High Readiness, © 2013 DND-MDN Canada


Credit: Department of National Defence

Joint Task Force (North) Conducts High Arctic Sovereignty Operation

April 24, 2013

By: Lieutenant (RCN) Paul Pendergast, Joint Task Force (North) Public Affairs